Jim Svejda, Host of "The Record Shelf",
KUSC, Los Angeles
Distributed nationally by Public Radio International
Leroy Anderson once described the kind of music that he wrote as "concert music with a pop quality" and let
it go at that. It has also been described as "light music," "semi-classical" music, as well as a number
of less flattering things by those who simply fail to get the point. And the point is that he was a hugely gifted, highly
original composer whose music came to epitomize the 1950's as unmistakably as Eisenhower, fallout shelters, and the hula hoop.
By the time of Anderson's death, many of his best-known works had long since become a part of the national consciousness,
as indelibly ingrained in the American ear as the paintings of his near contemporary Norman Rockwell had been imprinted on
the American eye. While Anderson's music never plumbed the depths, stormed the heights, inflamed the passions, or stirred
the soul, he has a knack for making people feel a little better. Given what life can be, that might well prove the greater
The most numerous and popular of Anderson's works were those witty novelty items that became favorite Boston Pops encores
and have remained pops concert staples ever since. Yet whatever the central gimmick- from the sound of some actual office
equipment to those of the musical cat, an old time vaudeville soft shoe dancer, or a horse-drawn sleigh- it was never the
sound effects of the high-concept central idea that animated the piece. Rather, Anderson's melodic genius and impeccable craftsmanship,
coupled with an unwillingness to wear out his welcome and a genuine eagerness to please, were what made him one of the most
popular of all American composers.
As this indispensable MCA collection (2 CDs MCA 9815) of virtually his entire output proves, Anderson was a splendid interpreter
of his own music. Recorded between 1950 and 1962, the forty-seven items are all invested with an irresistible freshness and
sense of life, especially the more familiar pieces that here sound newly minted.
Arthur Fiedler hired Anderson as the Boston Pops chief arranger and introduced most of his music to the world. His interpretations
(RCA CD09026-61237-2) are also incomparable, though they tend to be a bit more literal and roughshod. Still, their energy
and feeling of fun make them irresistible, and the recorded sound is marginally more up to date.
Finally, Leonard Slatkin leads the St. Louis Symphony in an immensely enjoyable program for RCA (CD 09026-68046-2) that
mixes old favorites with rarities like "Clarinet Candy" and "Home Stretch." What a thrill it is to hear
Anderson played by a major American orchestra in state-of-the-art recorded sound.
From The Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings by Jim Svejda, Prima Publishing